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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXXII - Colonel Roosevelt And General Wood
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

It will be recalled that early in the war Colonel Roosevelt called at the White House to confer with the President regarding his desire to lead a brigade to the other side. I recall distinctly every fact of that meeting. I was seated a few feet away in the Red Room of the White House at the time these two men were conferring. Nothing could have been pleasanter or more agreeable than this meeting. They had not met since they were political opponents in 1912, but prior to that they had had two or three friendly visits with each other. Mr. Wilson had once lunched with Colonel Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, and when the Colonel was President, he and his party had been luncheon guests of President and Mrs. Wilson of Princeton University on the occasion of an Army and Navy game played on the Princeton gridiron.

They met in the White House in the most friendly fashion, told each other anecdotes, and seemed to enjoy together what the Colonel was accustomed to call a "bully time."

The object of the Colonel's call was discussed without heat or bitterness. The President placed before the Colonel his own ideas regarding Mr. Roosevelt's desire to serve, and the attitude of the General Staff toward the volunteer system, a system that would have to be recognized if the Colonel's ambition was to be realized. As a matter of fact, instead of being moved by any ill will toward the Colonel, the inclination of the President was to overrule the recommendation of the General Staff and urge that the Colonel be granted permission to go over seas. The salutations at the end of the conference were most friendly and the Colonel, on his way out, stopped in to see me. He slapped me on the back in the most friendly way, and said: "By Jove, Tumulty, you are a man after my own heart! Six children, eh? Well now, you get me across and I will put you on my staff, and you may tell Mrs. Tumulty that I will not allow them to place you at any point of danger."

Some weeks later, I received the following letter from Colonel Roosevelt:
Oyster Bay, Long Island, N. Y.
April 12, 1917.


That was a fine speech of Williams. I shall write him and congratulate him.

Now, don't forget that it might be a very good thing to have you as one of my commissioned officers at Headquarters. You could do really important work there, and tell Mrs. Tumulty and the six children, that this particular service would probably not be dangerous. Come, sure!

Sincerely yours,

Secretary to the President,
Washington, D.C.
After the Colonel departed, the President in a boyish way said: "Well, and how did the Colonel impress you?" I told the President of the very favourable impression the Colonel had made upon me by his buoyancy, charm of manner, and his great good nature. The President replied by saying: "Yes, he is a great big boy. I was, as formerly, charmed by his personality. There is a sweetness about him that is very compelling. You can't resist the man. I can easily understand why his followers are so fond of him."

[Illustration: Colonel Roosevelt sent this letter to Mr. Tumulty shortly after his one and only call upon President Wilson at the White House. [Transcriber's note: contains a reproduction of the letter from Roosevelt quoted above.]]

It was, therefore, with real pain that the President read the account of this interview as contained in John J. Leary's book entitled "Talks with T. R.," containing many slighting references made by the Colonel to the President. It appears that Mr. Leary accompanied the Colonel to the White House and immediately upon the conclusion of the conference was the recipient of a confidential statement of the Colonel's impression of the President. The account in Mr. Leary's book is as follows:
I found that, though I had written plainly enough, there was confusion in his [Wilson's] mind as to what I wanted to do. I explained everything to him. He seemed to take it well, but--remember I was talking to Mr. Wilson.

* * * * *

Tumulty, by way of a half joke, said he might go to France with me. I said: 'By Jove, you come right along! I'll have a place for you.' I would, too, but it wouldn't be the place he thinks. It is possible he might be sent along as sort of a watchdog to keep Mr. Wilson informed as to what was being done. He wouldn't be, though. He'd keep his distance from headquarters except when he was sent for.

* * * * *

He [Wilson] has promised me nothing definitely, but as I have said, if any other man than he talked to me as he did, I would feel assured. If I talked to another man as he talked to me it would mean that that man was going to get permission to fight. But I was talking to Mr. Wilson. His words may mean much, they may mean little. He has, however, left the door open.
Of course, what ultimately happened is clear to everyone, civilian and soldier, who pauses a moment to reflect; as plans for the conduct of the war matured, it became continually clearer that it must be a professional war, conducted by professionals with complete authority over subordinates. There could be no experimenting with volunteer commanders, no matter how great their valour, how pure their motives, or how eminent their positions in the nation. To make an exception of Colonel Roosevelt would have been to strike at the heart of the whole design. Military experts and the majority of Congressional opinion were at one in this matter, though Congress put upon the President the responsibility of making the final decision, together with whatever obloquy this would entail. It was purely as a step in the interest of waging the war with greatest effectiveness that the President announced the decision adverse to the Colonel's wishes. Personally it would have been pleasanter for the President to grant the Colonel's request, but President Wilson has never adopted "the easiest way."

A great deal of criticism was heaped upon the President for what appeared to the outside as his refusal to send General Leonard Wood to France. Although a fierce storm of criticism beat upon him, the President displayed no resentment, nor, indeed, did he seem to notice what his critics were saying.

As a matter of fact, the President played no part in the movement to keep General Wood from realizing his ambition to lead his division to France. Mr. George Creel in his book, "The War, The World and Wilson," has succinctly summarized this incident; has told how the name of General Wood did not appear in any of the lists of officers received from General Pershing; how the President took this as a plain indication that General Pershing did not desire General Wood in France (the absence of so eminent a name from the lists was certainly not an oversight 011 the part of the Commanding General in France); how President Wilson was determined to support General Pershing in every detail so long as General Pershing in the President's opinion was meeting the requirements of the great responsibility laid upon him; how the President was insistent that General Pershing should not be embarrassed by political considerations of any kind in the discharge of his great military duty; how the unfortunate feature of the whole matter was that the recall of General Wood did not come until "after he had taken his brigade to New York preparatory to sailing for the other side"; how "General March treated the circumstance as one of military routine entirely, utterly failing to realize its political importance"; how "instead of informing General Wood at once that he had not been chosen to go to France, General March followed the established procedure and waited for the completion of the training period before issuing orders to the division commanders"; how "General Wood left Camp Funston in advance of his division and without waiting to receive his orders"; how General March sent these orders to New York; how "in consequence there was an appearance of eleventh-hour action, an effect of jerking General Wood from the very deck of the transport"; how "General Wood carried his complaint to the President and was told plainly that the list would not be revised in the personal interest of any soldier or politician."

I discussed the matter with General Wood immediately upon the conclusion of his conference with the President. Walking into my office after his interview, the General informed me that his talk with the President was most agreeable and satisfactory and that he was certain, although the President did not intimate it to him, that the reason for his being held in America could not be attributed to the President. Turning to me, the General said: "I know who is responsible for this. It is that man Pershing." I assured the General that there was nothing in the President's attitude toward him that was in the least degree unfriendly, and reminded him how the President had retained him as Chief of Staff when he assumed office in 1913. The General, very much to my surprise, intimated that back of Pershing's attitude toward him was political consideration. I tried to reassure him and, indeed, I resented this characterization of General Pershing as an unjust and unwarranted imputation upon the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

I myself felt that General Wood was being unfairly treated, although I did not admit this to him in our interview. I took the liberty of saying this to the President over the telephone from my house that evening. I tried to convince the President that there was a feeling rapidly spreading throughout the country that Wood was being unfairly treated and that it was not just that the Administration, which I knew was blameless in the matter, should be compelled to bear the responsibility of the whole thing and pay what I was certain would be a great price in the loss of popular esteem.

The President in his reply to my statement showed irritation at what I said in General Wood's behalf, and used very emphatic language in conveying to me the idea that he would not interfere in having the list, upon which General Wood's name appeared, revised. I urged that if General Wood was not to be sent to France, he should be given a chance to go to Italy. Our conversation over the telephone in reference to the Wood matter was as follows: "I trust, Governor, that you can see your way clear to send General Wood either to France or to Italy."

Without a moment's hesitation, the President said: "I am sorry, but it cannot be done."

Whereupon, I said: "It is not fair that the Administration should be carrying the burden of this whole affair. If General Pershing or the General Staff is responsible for holding General Wood in this country, surely they have good reason, and the public ought to be apprised of it, and thus remove the suspicion that we are playing politics."

The President quickly interrupted me and said: "I am not at all interested in any squabble or quarrel between General Pershing and General Wood. The only thing I am interested in is winning this war. I selected General Pershing for this task and I intend to back him up in every recommendation he makes."

When I tried to emphasize the feeling of dissatisfaction throughout the country over the Wood incident, he replied that the responsibility of winning the war was upon General Pershing and himself and not upon the critics who thought that General Wood was being badly treated. I then said: "But it is not fair to you to have it said that by reason of some feeling that you may have against Wood you are keeping him on this side."

The President replied: "I am sorry, but I do not care a damn for the criticism of the country. It would not be fair to Pershing if I tried to escape what appears to be my responsibility. I do not intend to embarrass General Pershing by forcing his hand. If Pershing does not make good, I will recall him, but it must not be said that I have failed to support him at every turn."

His attitude toward Wood and Roosevelt was consistently maintained, in supporting the General Staff and the War Department throughout the war. The only thing that seemed to interest him was how quickly and effectively to do the job and to find the man who could do it. ----------------------


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